Urban Transitions and Path Dependence: Barriers to Achieving Environmental, Cultural, Economic, and Social Sustainability

By Geoff Ghitter and Noel Keough.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability Policy and Practice

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: April 15, 2016 $US5.00

As the world urbanizes at a frantic pace, cities have become the nexus of environmental, cultural, economic, and social sustainability. The transformation to global sustainability, therefore, depends on urban transformations and, implicitly, the ability of urban managers to adapt global sustainability priorities to their locally unique environmental, cultural, economic, and social conditions. As such, the success or failure of the global agenda depends in large part on how locally mobilized conceptions of town planning and urban redevelopment are deployed. In the context of Calgary, Canada, a prototypical North American auto city, the transformation to more sustainable urban forms has become a public priority; however, entrenched development regimes, public and private, actively work to hinder or prevent challenges to the current model and even lobby for a return to previous, less regulated arrangements. Drawing on theoretical conceptions of complexity, evolutionary systems, and path dependence, we frame the reformation of urban planning practice as an exercise in whole-system thinking. This context provides the roots for a narrative framework that we employ to 1) identify barriers to achieving urban carbon emission reductions that are meaningful in the local context, and 2) strategically seek alternate pathways to circumvent or overcome them. However, new pathways are difficult to initiate because existing development regimes are carriers of historical inertia with a predilection to maintain business as usual even if the resulting urban form is unsustainable.

Keywords: Path Dependence, Urban Emission Reductions, Narrative Modeling, Calgary

The International Journal of Sustainability Policy and Practice, Volume 12, Issue 3, September 2016, pp.13-23. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: April 15, 2016 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 514.336KB)).

Dr. Geoff Ghitter

Post-doctoral Fellow, Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment, and Economy, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada

Dr. Noel Keough

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Sustainable Design, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada